What’s an ISBN and Why Do I Need One for My Book?

An ISBN is one of those elements in the self-publishing journey that can come completely out of left field. 

An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique identifier used internationally for all published works—from books to eBooks to music albums. The ISBN identifies the publisher as well as the specific book title, edition and format (hardback, paperback, ePub, PDF, Mobi, Audio, etc.). An ISBN allows retailers to help the customer understand exactly which version of a title they’re purchasing. 

ISBN Plus Barcode

Each book and each version and/or edition of that book is ideally identified by its own ISBN. 

Do I Need an ISBN for My Self-Published Book?

Whether you need an ISBN for your self-published book is up to you. Buying your ISBN is similar to buying property. Once you have one, you own the rights to your book, and you’ll be identified as the initial publisher. 

While there’s no requirement for every book to have an ISBN, you will usually need one if you plan on selling your book as a requirement from the seller. That includes at a bookstore, Amazon, or online in an eBook format.

An ISBN stores information like what your book is about, who the author is, and who the publisher is (in this case, that’s you!) This is critical information for booksellers like Amazon or indie bookstores to know Along with the barcode, an ISBN is crucial for tracking sales and inventory.

If you’re simply publishing a book to distribute to crowdfunding backers, or for internal organizational use, you may not really need an ISBN for your book — there is little to no risk of your book being ripped off when it is only distributed to a small internal group, and you aren’t selling through a store. 

Unfortunately, there are companies that prey on new self-published authors by offering illegitimate ISBN codes. This can be a huge blow to your book sales, as your ISBN identifies critical information about your book for life.”. The ISBN number identifies the title of the book for life, because of this, you need to be assured of the legitimacy and security of the assigning company, otherwise they risk the possibility of getting scammed or even the rights to their book being stolen. 

There’s even a company called isbnagency.com, who is not affiliated with the US ISBN agency!

We strongly recommend buying directly through Bowker. Bowker is the only company in the US authorized to manage the ISBN program. When buying from them, you can ensure the safety of your book and improve its marketability with the features that come with having a reliable ISBN. 

How Do I Get an ISBN? 

There are 2 main ways to get an ISBN:

  1. The first is to go through a broker who buys ISBNs in bulk. Even though this option is the cheapest option, we don’t recommend doing this due to its unreliability and possible legal implications of allowing someone you don’t know to technically own the rights t
  2. The second, and more reliable option, is to buy directly through Bowker at www.bowker.com

Bowker offers multiple bundles or single options for purchasing an ISBN. On their site, their current pricing stands at: 

Bowker also offers a bundling option where you can buy ISBNs and barcodes or QR codes. The barcodes and QR codes allow your book to be scanned by you or the seller. This allows easier access during purchase for the seller and sales tracking for you. 

These bundles are currently priced as: 

The more ISBNS you buy from Bowker, the cheaper each individual ISBN becomes. You may want to purchase multiple ISBNs for each book format, or as a back up if you end up releasing another edition of your book. 

You can also visit this site to generate your own barcodes from an ISBN https://barcode.tec-it.com/en/ISBN13

How Many ISBNs Do I Need?

Each edition and format of your book requires its own ISBN to be properly identified in the seller’s, buyer’s and government’s system.

Some things to consider when determining how many ISBNs your book will need are:

  • How many books do you plan on publishing?How many formats of each title do you intend on creating? and
  • Whether or not you are planning on creating multiple or future editions. 

Even if you don’t plan on needing another ISBN anytime soon, there is always the possibility of unforeseen issues. Or hey, maybe you decide to make your book into an ebook, or decide to write another book all together! 

You can always purchase ISBNs in advance of your next book or book version and register the title of the book later. The good thing is, ISBNs never expire. So whether you get writer’s block and can’t seem to finish your book, or decide not to create multiple formats, those ISBNs will be waiting for you until you need them.

We know self-publishing can be hard, especially when it comes to logistics, ISBNs are just another piece in the puzzle, but you don’t have to do it all on your own. Hopefully this post was successful in helping you get one step closer to making your book writing dreams a reality! 

Now that you’ve got the ISBN covered, the next part of the process is to get your book printed! Fill out our quote form to get a free quote, or contact us if you have any questions, we at PufferPrint are happy to help.

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